Thursday, September 8, 2011

Return from the Mountains

What is it about the mountains? Their spell is unshakable. This past Monday, four In a New Light artists returned from a two week expedition to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I suspect we are all still enchanted by those peaks. The trip made memories that won’t fade anytime soon. Memories of grueling hikes fueled by unfamiliarly thin air to pristine mountain lakes two miles above sea level. Memories of dozens of native greenback cutthroat trout hooked using the beautiful simplicity of Tenkara-style fly fishing. Memories of enormous bull elk wandering surprisingly close to camp, as if requesting their photo-op. And memories of unparalleled photographic magic chronicled in a sample of photos below. Adapting artistically to such a foreign landscape was initially challenging for the young photographers, but, in predictable fashion, they figured it out quickly and returned with image portfolios that would make many pros jealous.

Our expedition to Rocky Mountain National Park reminded me more powerfully than ever before what In a New Light is all about. Yes, it’s about creating great art, about connecting with nature and national parks. But above all, it’s about using art and nature as beacons on kids’ deeply personal quests for healing, renewal, and hope. Jourdyn, Brack, Renny, and Shane found hope in those mountains. They put their hearts into their photos and bared their souls for our documentary film camera. They emerged from the clouds with a newly defined sense of who they are and what they’re capable of. Yes, the mountains cast their spell.

Like every In a New Light endeavor, our expedition to Rocky Mountain National Park would not have been possible without a tremendous community of supporters. Foremost, I must acknowledge fellow Northwest Passage staff members Christy Ammend, Chris Flottum, and Wes Olson for providing essential support on this trip. RMNP staff were also critically important to making this trip happen. Larry Frederick, Jean Muenchrath, Kathy Brown, and Kyle Patterson provided planning and logistical support. Biologist John Mack spoke with our riveted group for two hours about bears and other Park wildlife.  Artist-in-residence Emily Harrington spoke to the boys about her art and making a career in art.  Thanks once again to Jeff Butler for teaching us Tenkara-style flyfishing and TenkaraUSA for providing us with fishing rods.  Interstate Batteries donated a two-week supply of batteries for all of our still and video camera equipment.  Finally, thanks to the dedicated staff at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway for helping plan this trip from the ground up, and to the National Park Foundation for funding In a New Light through an America's Best Idea grant made possible through the generous support of the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation, and Ahmanson Foundation.

-Ben Thwaits, In a New Light Project Leader 

"I Am the Mountain"
by Brack, 17

I am the mountain
I am the river that gives life
I am the priceless scenery
I am the highest of the peaks
I am the rain
I am every shadow under a rock
I am the sun that reflects in the lakes
I am every life
I am every death

by Shane, 16

I stand alone
Thinking about how to get home
People think I'm bad to the bone
But I need to stop running from home
So I don't have to be alone.

by Jourdyn, 17

I took this picture in broad daylight, but I wanted it to have a darker look, so I adjusted my exposure.  I got really close to capture the beauty of these berries.

by Renny, 15

Colorful spectrum
full of life
penetrates the rainy haze

Moving forward
I'm following the light
Forgetful of the darker days

by Jourdyn, 17

This bird sings to me
and I listened.
This bird watched me
and I watched it.
This bird flew away
but I'm still here.

 "The Four Brothers"
by Shane, 16

This is me in the sky with my brothers.
All we ever do is think about our mother.
This is where we all come together
I never stand alone.

"Standing Strong"
by Renny, 15

Standing strong
against the wind
against the rain
against the clouds
I am a mountain

Standing strong
before the world
before the doubters
before the haters
I am a mountain!

"Fallen Tree"
by Brack, 17

Who stood with this tree?
when it grew leaves
when it was buried in snow
when it grew tall
when its leaves fell
when the tree came down
Who stood with this tree?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yellowstone Magic

Just a few short days ago, four In a New Light artists returned from a two-week photography expedition to Yellowstone National Park. The experience is still resonating in the deepest part of our souls, a shadowy place not easily expressed through language. I’m grateful that photos accompany the end of this post, because an experience this powerful can be adequately communicated only through art.

Yellowstone was an adventure. Most of our time was spent traversing the backcountry, with a few short forays into the front country, battling crowds to see some of the iconic sights. But the serene backcountry was home for us. It was a place of morning swims in snowmelt streams, bison crankily sauntering through camp, adrenaline rush climbs to snowy peaks, fresh grizzly tracks in the dust, brook trout on the fly, 50-mile views to far off mountain ranges, backdrops of rising thermal steam, CGI sunsets, hailstorms weathered with terrified glee, and, of course, once-in-a-lifetime photographic magic. It seemed that every moment was a moment of discovery in this exotic land, such a far cry from our North Woods training grounds on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

However, for Chris, Willie, Victor, and Jesse, the deepest discoveries were not of the land, but of themselves. For these two weeks, Yellowstone became a stage where four young men redefined themselves. They discovered new physical and emotional strength, new meaning to the word “team”, and new mastery of artistic expression. The experience of Yellowstone’s powerful yet benevolent spirit will surely stay with the boys forever.

The In a New Light Yellowstone expedition was possible only through the incredibly kind assistance of many groups and individuals in addition to the National Park Foundation, who provided the primary funding for the project. Yellowstone National Park Rangers Beth Taylor and Ivan Kowski provided critical trip planning and logistical support. Interstate Batteries donated over $1500 of still and video camera batteries. For two weeks we never had to re-charge! The team at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone gave critical fishing advice and support. Woody Wimberly of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway provided important trip planning advice. TenkaraUSA gave us major discounts on fishing rods. (Stay tuned for a blog post about Tenkara fishing). Jeff Butler provided free fly fishing lessons to the boys. Finally, Jason Greatsinger and Christy Ammend served as not only awesome co-leaders of this expedition, but also captured countless hours breathtaking video that will become part of a feature-length documentary about In a New Light in the coming year.  Thank you so much, everyone. 

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

Willie, Chris, Jessie, and Jason team up for some video. 

Victor and Jessie rest after a snowball fight. 

Jessie celebrates the breathtaking view.

Victor shows off the catch of the day. 

The Hill
by Victor, 14

This picture reminds me that there are hills in life.  You're always going to struggle on your way up, but when you get there, it's always worth it.  You get rewarded with great views.  And no matter how high you climb, there are always more hills waiting for you. 

The Waterfall
by Jessie, 16

The water is pouring
My spirit is soaring
I see my aunties tears rushing down
She wants me to be around
But I do my own thing
Been away too long
Now I can't open the door

Sunrise Through Burned Trees 
by Willie, 13

I took this picture because my mom loves sunrises and she asked me to get a picture of a sunrise in Yellowstone.  

River Never Seen
by Chris, 17

Swiftly flowing before blind eyes
The ocean is my silent prize
I race and race as fast as I can
Stopping isn't in my plan
By day I'm cold and plain as ever
At night I'm rarely seen if ever
I have a side that few have seen
as complex as my water is clean
I deal with things you've never been through
You're brave to even wear my shoe
One step in mine is terrifying
But never worth quitting trying.
Challenges I'm sure to face
For these I pray and quitely brace
But no apprehension crosses my mind
Not once or twice or at any time
It all works out ever second every day
Over and over the events will play
But ss hard as it gets I won't leave . . . I'll stay. 

Sad Bison
by Victor, 15

Sunset Singing
by Jessie, 16

Heart of Thorns
by Chris, 17

The Crew.  Good luck guys!  We'll miss you! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thinking Big

The 2011 season of In a New Light is officially upon us. This year, we’re extremely fortunate to be armed with a renewed America’s Best Idea Grant from the National Park Foundation, made possible through the generous support of the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation, and Ahmanson Foundation. With these funds, and the momentum from the previous year’s success, we’re now thinking big. From our home base and artistic training grounds on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, we will be embarking on four photographic expeditions to distant national parks this summer and fall: Isle Royale, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Badlands. A separate group of young artists will photograph each park, and their photos will tour the nation in an exhibit this fall.

The first group of five artists retuned from Isle Royale just two weeks ago. Daily storms and difficult terrain provided plenty of challenges for the boys to rise to, both physically and artistically. And rise they did, as the photos below demonstrate. The boys all talked about this island having a “spirit,” a magical quality to it that is hard to articulate in words. However, their photos say it all.

A huge thanks to the National Park Service staff at Isle Royale, especially Ranger Rob Bell, whose several hours with the boys left a very deep impression. When recounting their experiences on Isle Royale, “Ranger Rob” was always centerpiece of the conversation.

Stay tuned for more updates in the near future. There is so much more exciting news to share.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

"Spirit in the Shoreline"
by Alex, 17

I really like the shoreline picture because I feel it captures the spirit of Isle Royale. Something about the way all of the colors blend together in this scene is magical. It was also very foggy when it was taken, so being on the island not being able to see anything gave a sense of complete isolation, like nothing from the outside world mattered that day.

"Standing Strong"
by Mike, 16

This light house reminds me of my mother.
Not only does she like light houses but she is
Strong and helpful like this light house.
In times of need she is there to give advice
And stands strong for what is right.

"Snake Like Me"
by Bobby, 14

I’m like a snake.  People are afraid of me because they don’t understand me.  They think I’m evil, that I’m a thief.  But, I’m actually nice and gentle.  There a few people that care for me like my parents and family and a few others that overcome the fear.  They talk to me and love me and understand me.  So please don’t be scared. 

"Sparkles on the Water"
by David, 17

This picture reminds me of my grandmother. The sparkels remind me of her eyes when she's happy. The blue in the picture remindes me of her because it is her favorite color, and the brightness reminds me of her because whenever you're down or hurt she always has something to say to brighten up your day.

"Keep on Growing" by Kyle 17

I keep on growing,
Even when I feel I can't keep going,
Sometimes emotions make me wonder,
Why I keep myself from going back under,
Then I start to realize,
That my life is reality,
And I need to try even harder,
To grow up and be a good father.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In the Rotunda

The In a New Light photo exhibition is now comfortably resting in its new home in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda until January 22.  Words cannot accurately describe the beauty and power of such a magnificent building, and it is a humbling honor for the boys to display their art and share their stories within its walls.   As I struggle to sufficiently describe the experience of being in such a place, what comes to mind is a feeling similar to that sense of awe, wonder, and reverence experienced in a beautiful natural place such as the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  The Rotunda is a work of art itself, and the feeling makes me think of a statement from painter Paul Cezanne:  "Art is a harmony parallel with nature."  I suspect the In a New Light artists have discovered that harmony, and they are sharing it with all of us.  Enjoy the photos below.

I would like to extend a special thanks to the National Park Service, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and the Capitol Police for making the Rotunda exhibition a reality.  I would also like to thank Courtney Georgia,  a UW-Green Bay student visiting the Rotunda who ended up volunteering her time to set up much of the exhibit.  That sense of kindness and giving among the community has been the driving force behind In a New Light since its inception.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

Friday, January 7, 2011

To the Capitol!

The In a New Light exhibit has been on a busy and exciting journey over the last few months, and on January 10, the journey continues to its biggest destination yet:  the main floor of the Capitol Rotunda in Madison.  What an honor!  All twenty six framed photos will be on display in the Capitol building January 10-22. 

The exhibit will be travelling to Madison from Wausau, where it was warmly welcomed in the Ahrsbrak Gallery at UW-Marathon County for over a month.  HERE is a press release from the exhibition.  It was even featured in a news segment on WAOW television!  Thanks to Brittany Earl for putting together a great piece. Although the video clip is no longer avaiable, HERE is a news release from the segment.  Special thanks to Jean Greenwood, Judi Witkopf, Diana Budde, and Patti Thwaits for making the exhibit possible. 

In other news, be sure to check out the In a New Light WEBSITE.  You can view nearly 100 photos from the project, artist biographies, and support the project.

Please take a look at video on the front page of the National Park Foundation website.   This exposure is such an honor. 

And, stay tuned.  We've been working with A&I Books out of Hollywood, CA, to publish an In a New Light coffee table book.  The book is currently on the presses, and will be out very soon.  Keep an eye on the website and this blog for an announcement of the book's availiblility. 

In the midst of the exhibit's grand journey, a new league of young photographers at Northwest Passage has been quitely in training along the snowy banks of the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers.  It struck me how relatively little winter work most nature photographers do.  But the photographic opportunities remain endless this time of year.  Despite the challenges of deep snow and frozen waters, the boys have been creating stunning photographs that capture a new kind of beauty not previously seen in the project.  The starkness and relative simplicity of the winter landcape lends itself to high photographic drama.  Enjoy a sample below.

"Fountain of Serenity"
by Will, 16

Photography helps me escape from reality by looking at life through a lense. Seeing what I can do through pictures helps me think about what I can accomplish If I put my mind to it.

"Curious Bluejay"
by Raequon, 16

I fell in love with photography because I felt that it’s one of the only things that’s good for me, and I want to keep pursuing my dreams of becoming a professional photographer.

"Winter Berries"
by Ronnie, 16

This picture is easily summed up. It is just a way to show how amazing the world can be if you just take the time to look for the beauty.

"Screaming Sky"
by Kolten, 14

"Photography has helped me channel my anger into something healthy."

"Easy to Break"
by Nate, 15

"I sometime feel that I am easy to break.  I flip over little things that later I regret doing. That’s why I took this picture. It relates to me a lot. I think taking pictures really helps me wit my anger and some of my other problems."

"Sunrise at Schaefer Cabin"
by Alex, 14
As the sun comes up, this scene becomes more beautiful.  When I took this picture, I thought its one of a kind.  It makes me think about how my time at NWP is almost over, and I am still the same person from when I started, but I'm also different now. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Exhibit Opens!

Six months.  Hundreds of hours on the river.  Tens of thousands of shutter clicks.  Twenty six young transformed into master nature photographers.  It all culminates today in the opening of the "In a New Light" photo exhibit at the National Park Service visitor center in St. Croix Falls.  Please come and witness the story.  The exhibit will be in St. Croix Falls until October 25, when it will then proceed on its journey to Wausau, Madison, Cable, and Spooner.  CLICK HERE to read the press release for more information.   

The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of activity as we have prepared for the exhibit, and the kids have handled every step of the process.  Take a look at their journey. 

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

 Black Iris Gallery and Custom Framing owner JoAnn Martin shows the boys that math actually comes in handy in real life.  JoAnn and Bill LaPorte of Black Iris graciously opened their shop to us and taught us the secrets of professional matting and framing. They were incredibly patient, kind, and helpful through every step of the process. 

Knee-deep in frames.

Chris puts some elbow grease into the mat cutter. 

Bill LaPorte teaches Cody the finer points of dust removal.

Dakota is looking quite comfortable next to the "Professional Picture Framers Association" apron. 

Cody measures out frame locations on the St. Croix River Visitor Center wall. 

NPS staff Jeff Carlstrom and Jon Books stand with Kayden and Cody (looking tired but fulfilled) after a day spent hanging the exhibit. Job well done, gentlemen. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Busily at Work

Although it's been a few weeks since the last blog post, the cameras have been busily at work.  In the meantime, we have started preparations for a large photography exhibit that will be installed at the NPS St. Croix Falls visitor center on September 24.  Be sure to stop by!  The exhibit will later travel to Wausau, Madison, Cable, and Spooner. Stay tuned for details. 

We extend a special thanks to craftsman Steven Zimmerman of Duluth, who just put the finishing touches on handmade oak frames in which the photos will be displayed.  Each frame is a work of art in itself.

In a couple weeks, we'll be heading to Black Iris Gallery in Spooner for a day of matting and framing our photos under the instruction of professional framer JoAnn Martin.  We'll post photos from our day at the gallery.

In the midst of all the exhibit planning, we are still finding time to seek refuge in the peaceful comfort of the Riverway, cameras in hand.  Below are a few photos from the last couple weeks.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

"This photo made me have a whole new perspective on this creature.  I would have normally thought it's just a silly frog.  But if you really look at it, and feel it looking back at you, it's a beautiful creature." Photo called "A New Perspective" by Cody, age 16. 

  "I like this picture because it's in really good focus, and I remember having to sneak up on it step by step to get really close."  Photo called "Butterfly in the Leaves" by Jordan, age 17.

"This picture is half scary and half beautiful at the same time."  Photo called "Snake on the Shore" by Logan, age 12

"These flowers are nice.  They stick out like myself.  And they're small, but they have a lot of potential." Photo called "Potential" by Chris, age 15.

"I like this picture because it looks like this toad is playing hide and seek."  Photo called "Hiding Toad" by Kayden, age 14